Sunday, May 17, 2009

A little more about evolution . . . and creation . . . and Intelligent Design

I haven't posted lately on this topic. Partially because I have been preoccupied with so many other subjects.

But I continue to read a bit on the subject. I've picked up a few additional books. . . . And I have continued to follow an email discussion list I'm on in which some highly educated Old-Earth Creationists (primarily ID advocates, as far as I can tell) discuss their views.

A few issues have bubbled high enough above the surface that I feel compelled to comment.

  1. I just discovered that Denyse O'Leary wrote a blog post at the end of last year in which she notes,
    Freelance reporter Suzan Mazur (Scoop, March 4[, 2008]) pulls back the veil on one of evolution's little known secrets--Darwinism is dead as a theory of evolution:
    It's not Yasgur's Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock. What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature—let's call them ‘the Altenberg 16’—who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accommodate ‘other’ new phenomena.
    Mazur explores the views of the Altenberg 16 "self-organization proponents" and their attack on Darwinism as they desperately search for another materialistic explanation for life in a six-part E-Book.
    Frankly, I am grateful for this post because it encourages me in--what I have been thinking I need to do--maintaining my generally agnostic view with respect to origins . . . at least with respect to physical mechanisms.
  2. I thought I should encourage you, potentially, to follow the reference to Mazur's e-book. Mazur writes, in her introduction:
    No one knows how life began, but so-called theories of evolution are continually being announced. This book, The Altenberg 16: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up? exposes the rivalry in science today surrounding attempts to discover that elusive mechanism of evolution.
    Nice start. Helpful summary of her subject matter.

    But look where she goes!
    Evolutionary science is as much about the posturing, salesmanship, stonewalling and bullying that goes on as it is about actual scientific theory. It is a social discourse involving hypotheses of staggering complexity with scientists, recipients of the biggest grants of any intellectuals, assuming the power of politicians while engaged in Animal House pie-throwing and name-calling: "ham-fisted", "looney Marxist hangover", "secular creationist", "philosopher" (a scientist who can’t get grants anymore), "quack", "crackpot". . .

    In short, it’s a modern day quest for the holy grail, but with few knights. At a time that calls for scientific vision, scientific inquiry’s been hijacked by an industry of greed, with evolution books hyped like snake oil at a carnival.

    Perhaps the most egregious display of commercial dishonesty is next year’s [i.e., at the time of writing, 2009's --JAH] celebration of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species – the so-called theory of evolution by natural selection, i.e., survival of the fittest, that was foisted on us almost 150 years ago.

    Scientists agree that natural selection can occur. But the scientific community has known for some time that natural selection has nothing to do with evolution. It also knows that self-assembly is real, that is, matter can form without a genetic recipe – like the snowflake (non-living). It does this without external guidance.

    And that the Hydra (living), for example, can self-organize its scattered cells even after being forced through a sieve. Yet, science elites continue to term self-assembly and self-organization "woo woo".

    Coinciding with the 2009 Darwinian celebration, MIT will publish a book by 16 biologists and philosophers meeting in Altenberg, Austria at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in July [2008 --JAH] to discuss a reformulation of the theory of evolution. That’s the mansion made famous by Konrad Lorenz’s imprinting experiments, where Lorenz got his geese to follow him because they sensed he was their mother.

    The symposium’s title is "Toward an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis?", although the event is expected to be the actual kickoff of an evolution remix.

    Some of the Altenberg 16 or A-16, as I like to call them, have hinted that they’re trying to steer science in a more honest direction, that is, by addressing non-centrality of the gene. They say that the "Modern Evolutionary Synthesis", also called neo-Darwinism – which cobbled together the budding field of population genetics and paleontology, etc., 70 years ago – also marginalized the inquiry into morphology. And that it is then – in the 1930s and 1940s – that the seeds of corruption were planted and an Evolution industry born. . . .

    But will the A-16 deliver? Will they help rid us of the natural selection "survival of the fittest" mentality that has plagued civilization for a century and a half, and on which Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are based, now that the cat is out of the bag that selection is politics not science? That selection cannot be measured exactly. That it is not the mechanism of evolution. That it is an abstract rusty tool left over from 19th century British imperial exploits.

    Or will the A-16 tip-toe around the issue, appease the Darwin industry and protect foundation grants? . . .

    --Bold emphases mine. --JAH

    I haven't read the entire e-book. I'm just sayin': It looks like it's got some fascinating content!


    Oh. Before I stop on this subject: I should probably note what actually happened at the A-16 conference since that was 10 months ago.

    I have to confess, I'm not impressed. Though perhaps I "simply" don't know enough. But here's what Massimo Pigliucci, the conference sponsor, wrote about it:
    By incorporating [a series of exciting empirical and conceptual advances that have marked the field [of evolutionary theory] in recent time] into our understanding of evolution, we believe that the explanatory power of evolutionary theory is greatly expanded within biology and beyond. As is the nature of science, some of the new ideas will stand the test of time, while others will be significantly modified. Nonetheless, there is much justified excitement in evolutionary biology these days. This is a propitious time to engage the scientific community in a vast interdisciplinary effort to further our understanding of how life evolves.
    Really. Truly. That's the "final statement emerging from the Altenberg workshop, agreed upon by all 16 participants"!

    Are you impressed?

    Yeah. I didn't think so. Nor am I.

    Oh. you wonder what the "exciting empirical and conceptual advances" might be?

    Here they are:
    The new information includes findings from the continuing molecular biology revolution, as well as a large body of empirical knowledge on genetic variation in natural populations, phenotypic plasticity, phylogenetics, species-level stasis and punctuational evolution, and developmental biology, among others.

    The new concepts include (but are not limited to): evolvability, developmental plasticity, phenotypic and genetic accommodation, punctuated evolution, phenotypic innovation, facilitated variation, epigenetic inheritance, and multi-level selection.
    Sorry, that still doesn't do it for me.
  3. Then there is this post about Philip S. Skell's Forbes magazine article, The Dangers Of Overselling Evolution.

    Skell writes:
    It is widely accepted that the growth of science and technology in the West, which accounts for the remarkable advances we enjoy today in medicine, agriculture, travel, communications, etc., coincided with the separation, several centuries ago, of the experimental sciences from the dominance of the other important fields of philosophy, metaphysics, theology and history.

    Yet many popularizers of Darwin's theory now claim that without the study of ancient biological history, our students will not be prepared to engage in the great variety of modern experimental activities expected of them. The public should view with profound alarm this unnecessary and misguided reintroduction of speculative historical, philosophical and religious ideas into the realms of experimental science.

    It is more crucial to consider history in the fields of astrophysics and geology than in biology.
    . . . And he goes on from there.

    I would recommend either Mats' blog post about Skell's article or Skell's article itself.


    As with my last comment: I should probably note that Mats seems like a very interesting person. He seems to be Italian Portuguese (see his Blogger profile and notice he lives in Lisbon; check out the "background" language on his site as well); yet he is very tuned-in to American society. It appears he identifies himself as an evolutionist (scan down to the very end of the post and look at item #4), yet he writes some of the most thoughtful and "deep" anti-evolutionary/pro-young-earth-creationist stuff I think I have ever seen. (Check out his recent Are Secular Geologists Ready to Consider a Global Flood? post.)
  4. From the email discussions: One member wrote,
    Here's my take on ID and Natural Selection:

    "Intelligent Design" is a tautology.

    "Natural Selection" is an oxymoron.

    The word "selection" is an anthropomorphism which implies intelligence - a series of items are evaluated against some standard and either approved or discarded. The term "natural selection" thus implicitly attributes such divine action to nature, causing the word "nature" to suddenly have two parallel and opposite meanings. It can mean "random, undirected process" or "intelligent, directed process", depending on the whims of the user. As such, the word "nature" loses its meaning. Linguistically, the correct terminology is "random patterning". While I believe that patterns still inherently reflect design, I am willing to concede this word to the evolutionists in order to have fruitful debate. At least "patterning" does not imply directionality, as "selection" does. And "random" in its popular usage cannot hold any implication of intelligence, no matter what noun it describes.

    TE's [i.e., theistic evolutionists] survive on this sleight of logic - they can truly and rationally talk of "natural selection", although issues of pan(en)theism inevitably crop up time and again, even if often hotly denied, then certain often indirectly implied.

    Darwinians should not be allowed to use the phrase "natural selection" at all and should be restricted to "random patterning". It would be interesting to see if any could manage to do so for longer than a few minutes at a time.
    I love that: "random patterning"! :-)
  5. Okay. Finally: I just got a copy of Denis Lamoureux's Evolutionary Creation. Whether he convinces me about the need to believe in a truly evolutionary creationism or not (something I am disinclined to expect at this time!), I am finding his discussion--even as I found Glover's and the Haarsmas' discussions--fascinating and useful.

    Just in Chapter 1, as he lays out the subject matter he wants to address, I think his distinctions are helpful:
    Today the origin of the universe and life is often seen in Black-and-white categories. For many people, the cosmos and its living organisms came about through one of two ways--either evolution or creation. In other words, the subject of origins is cast as a dichotomy. . . . It is an issue that is divided into only two simple positions. Regrettably, this either/or type of thinking fuels the popular perception that modern science and Christian faith are entrenched in an endless war. . . ..

    A critical factor that fuels the origins dichotomy is the popular use of the terms evolution and creation. These words are often merged inadvertently with concepts that narrow the range of meaning. This problem is known as the conflation of ideas. Defined specifically, conflation is the carelessly collapsing of distinct categories into one single poorly conceived notion. For many people today, evolution is blended with a godless worldview, and creation is dissolved into a strict six-day literal interpretation of Gen 1. Consequently, the common use of these terms limits thinking and traps the discussion and a never-ending evolution vs. creation debate. . . .

    For most people, the term evolution refers to a biological theory of molecules-to-people that is driven only by blind chance. this word is conflated with an atheistic worldview--the belief that God does not exist and that our existence has no ultimate meaning or purpose. Understandably, this popular use of evolution produces strong negative reactions within the Church. But for some Christians, evolution is simply the method through which the Lord created life, including humans who bear His Image. . . .
    What fascinates me is how Lamoureux goes on to distinguish two "types" of evolution, what he calls teleological and dysteleological evolution, the one having a plan and purpose (teleological more or less means, literally, "having an end" (i.e., goal or purpose)) and the other one having no plan or purpose, the one reflecting intelligent design and the other no intelligent design.

    Somehow, I find that simply having a precise vocabulary to describe a concept helps me to understand the concept.


  6. A few nights ago, I was thinking again about the issue of God's sovereignty and chance . . . as the Haarsmas discuss it here and here.

    I got thinking about this because Sarita has been following the Denver Nuggets as they pursue the NBA championship. She wondered aloud whether they had thrown Game 4 in their series with Dallas simply so they could come back to Denver and win in front of the home crowd. I mean, really: they are up by 14 points at the half and then they lose by two?

    Anyway. That's Sarita. She's a skeptic when it comes to these kinds of things.

    But I got thinking: Can anyone be sure whether the team threw the game or not?

    And what about the teams where, historically, we know they threw games--like the Chicago "Black Sox" scandal of 1919? Or the widespread game fixing that went on in college basketball in the late '40s and '50s. --Can the fans tell that this is going on?

    Often not!

    So--to borrow and modify a phrase from Ken Ham--if fallible human beings are able to fix games and throw games and make certain events appear totally "random" or "unpredictable" even while they are very intentional . . . why can't we believe that God could make physical events (mutations or "self-assemblies") appear "totally random" even though they are not?

    Just a thought.

Okay. I'm done.

Thanks for listening!
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